Why Does This Blog Exist?

I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) from the time I was five. Over the years I spent attending WCG, first as a child, and later as a baptized member, I made many friends, traveled to many different places for the Feast of Tabernacles, tithed on my income, and in general did the things that WCG taught us to do.

When I became an atheist in 1995, I left WCG behind.

But I didn’t leave my history behind: WCG, its people, government, culture, politics, scandals and changes made a lasting impression on my life. A number of my friends and family still attend WCG (since renamed Grace Communion International) or its offshoots. And despite my current view of Christianity and religion in general as false, I feel I share a sense of kindred spirit with those who attended (or still attend) WCG, and especially those who grew up attending.

Much has been made in discussions on the Net and elsewhere about WCG’s various splinter groups and where those who have left the WCG ranks worship these days. But until I started this blog (long before the term “blog” was invented) I saw practically no discussion about those who have not only left the parent church, but who have left religion entirely. As non-believers, they can draw upon the considerable resources of the Net to engage in discussion groups and consider the arguments of theology vs. atheism. However, as former WCG members they, like myself, had nowhere to turn for support and the knowledge that they are not alone; which is why I decided to create this blog.

Requirements for posters: I invite you to submit your own personal story for publication here, if you were once a member of the WCG, or grew up in the WCG but were never baptized, and you now consider yourself an atheist, agnostic, humanist, unbeliever, or freethinker (please click the links to make sure you understand these terms.) Simply e-mail me with any information you would like to see posted. (Please make sure the subject line of your message includes “WCG”.) You can include your name, your general geographic region, some kind of contact information (full address, e-mail, URL), and whatever short biographical information you like. To be considered for publication, clearly state that you meet the above requirements and that you’d like to be listed. I will never post anything you send unless you explicitly request.

Requirements for commenters: Comments on this blog are moderated. I will remove any comments that I feel disturb the supportive atmosphere of this site. This especially includes preaching, quoting scripture, proselytizing posters back to the faith, etc. Start your own blog if you want to do that, and welcome to the 21st century.


A couple of months ago I befriended someone from my Church days on Facebook that I haven’t had contact with for about 30 years. I noticed his wife openly made references to things like “divine light,” “Jesus saves us,” and posted pictures of Jesus figures and wore a necklace with a cross. OMG I thought, this is not the style of the man I knew back then, not how we were taught and grew up!

And so last night out of the blue I googled WCG, and today I am walking around feeling a bit strange like something in my life has changed.

I was born in 1963 directly into the World Wide Church of God with both parents attending services weekly in Sydney NSW Australia. I remember playing on a rug on the floor with my dolls and Etch-A-Sketch, quietly during the service which lasted from 2 hours sometimes up to 4 hours. I remember the Feast of Tabernacles in Blackheath (Snowy Mountains area) which attracted hundreds of people and we ate communal style, with lots of food on long tables.

In 1969 my Dad passed away and my Mum moved us back to West Australia to be closer to her family, but we still travelled over East every year to attend the Feast. The Church was growing everywhere in Australia and soon Perth had such numbers that it progressed from one meeting in City Beach, to a North and a South congregation. I fondly remember the YOU program, summer camps at Binningup Beach, and playing basketball every Sunday in Belmont.

I grew up not knowing I had a birthday until a playfriend asked me how old I was and I had no idea. I had to ask Mum — I was 7, but she didn’t tell me the date. We did not observe Christmas or Easter, Boxing Day or New Years. I never ate prawns or bacon, the “cloven hoof” and “scales” thing. I never sought friendships outside of the Church, and socially only ever interacted with my peers and older people in the circle of the Church. I was healed with an anointed cloth and oil by a Minister on many occasions, and also blessed when I was about 6 years old. I didn’t like observing The Day of Atonement because of the whole day fasting, or Unleavened Bread, having to clean the whole house, school bags, cupboards, garden and car – everything – to make sure there were no yeast products at our address. My school friends thought I was weird; I was segregated from Religious classes and did not participate in any Easter or Christmas activities. No shopping, work or sport and recreation were allowed on the Saturday Sabbath. No smoking, no alcohol, no modern pop music, no hot cars, no radical hobbies — just everything understated and “normal.”

In 1979 when everyone realised the World didn’t end, we were all told not to wear makeup, nail polish or use hair dye. I was not allowed to go on a date by myself with a boy, because that would send out the message that maybe sex was involved. Having sex before marriage was against all principles and I think some people were made to leave the church because of this. It was all about how other people saw you. Divorce was against all laws and just didn’t happen — put up or shut up I think.

My goal in life as a teenager was to be good enough to make it to the “Place of Safety” when the world ended and for entry into the “Promised Land.” I recall as if it was yesterday, sitting on the bus on the way to work looking around me at all the passengers, thinking how sad it was that they were all going to die and how I was so much better than them. I was 18.

When I was 20 years old I met my husband, a non-church person, and was stopped from going to Church because my parents notified the minister. I was barred from going to any Church activities, from seeing any Church people, speaking to any Church people even on the phone, taken off all YOU responsibilities and could no longer participate in any sport programs. My Mum and Stepfather scorned me and were devastated and ashamed of my choices.

And so I left home, deeply in love with my new mate, totally alone with no friends no family— nothing. I left it all behind: the price I paid. My parents, by choice, did not attend our wedding because to them it was wrong in the eyes of the Church and they could not support me as my choice would make for a bad life. Now in 2015, I am still happily married and more deeply in love than ever. We have 3 beautiful, well-adjusted daughters and also a grandson.

I grew up believing (blindly knowing) that all the people in WCG older than me must have my respect because they obeyed the Church 100%. I trusted everyone, and it never occurred to me to question anything that anyone older than me did. About 10 years after leaving the Church I met some people from Church, people that had been individually happily married with young families. She was a Minister’s daughter and he was a quietly spoken businessman. And here they were this day 10 years later, arm in arm, smiling and laughing, saying hello to me like nothing was out of order. How dare they!!!??? I have never been so speechless and dumbfounded. I walked away unable to speak to them, and to this day cannot process that moment and that situation.

In about 1992 my husband, our daughters and I were on holiday in our South West. We stopped in a small town called Dardannup. Regional WCG members met here in a small hall for services every fortnight and we called in to say hello to my Aunty and Uncle whom we hadn’t seen for a long while. With respect I approached the hall entrance on my own to ensure that they weren’t in the middle of a sermon. I was met at the door all in a hurry by a man I know very well (I have holidayed with that family on their farm in Donnybrook many a time). He stood on the step and closed the door behind him, raised his arm and pointed away saying “I don’t know you, you and your family are not welcome here. If you don’t go I will get other people to help me remove you”. Gobsmacked, confused, betrayed, sad and angry, it made me feel so much less of a human being. Some things take a long time to forget.

Over time I have learned that so many of the generation next older than me have basically lived life to look good on the outside, but done otherwise in private— been unfaithful in marriage, gotten divorced, married from another race, my own Mother now eats bacon, the Church has splintered into so many groups I have no idea, it’s all confusing. Which is exactly that — the Church is all confused.

Today I am not a religious person, but I still believe God is there watching. When I really need to, I pray because I know He will hear. When I met my husband I participated in my first Christmas — that was in 1984. I also eat Easter Bunnies and do enjoy getting a present or two on my Birthday.

So last night after I read about WCG and how it has remodelled itself to be Grace Communion International, I feel strange, like I’ve been let down somehow, again. So most everything I was taught by the Church as a child is now a lie. I know I chose to leave the Church and have become my own person, but the foundations of my youth are actually not credible any more, to anyone. Does this mean I’ve been excused from leaving the Church?

It’s like the family that I was born with, that disowned me and that I left behind, has now changed its mind after not wanting to know about me for over 30 years, and now would like to pretend it’s all OK— I can come back if I want to.


I’m fine where I am now, I am able to leave the past in the past and know that whatever teachings of the Church are still with me today, must be the good bits.


My name is Olivia and I was born into the Worldwide Church of God in New Zealand. My story begins before my birth with my parents, both recently divorced single parents. I have no idea why my father joined, but to be honest I have no clue why Dad does any of the things he does. Mum joined after the death of her youngest child with the encouragement of her mother— already a member but who had never been right after a car accident and serious head trauma. My parents were encouraged to marry soon after being “introduced” despite mum’s later claims she thought he was ugly and uninteresting. Of course they did marry, they were poor and my brother and I were conceived in the late ’80s. 

I didn’t realise my church was different until after I left. We met on Saturdays in a primary school hall, I played on a blanket (quietly) on the floor only standing to sing hymns. Occasionally us children were taken off in groups for bible study. I learned about God the Father, God the son and the Holy Ghost, unclean animals/seafood, to believe that Christ would save me (from what I don’t know) and that it was fun to place money in the collection basket. 

In my congregation nobody was baptised and I had never heard the name Herbert Armstrong nor Joseph Tkach. I don’t remember the YOU program or YES program. My dad read the Plain Truth, baked unleavened bread for a week every year and took us on holiday for the Feast during what I now know was Christmas. 

Unsurprisingly my parents separated when I was four, their custody arrangement meant I spent weekends with dad so I attended church with him. Mum turned up less and less over the years as I believe other members began to blame her for the marriage breakdown because she “disobeyed” her husband. Little did they realise how abusive and manipulative my father was and how obviously wrongly matched they were.

When I was about five, dad took me into a back room of the church with the minister and told me God was going to take my asthma away. (Being as I lived between two homes my parents mostly left me to carry my own inhalers so they didn’t have to and because I needed them so often.) The minister knelt with me for some time praying and anointing my forehead, afterwards I was so happy knowing I wouldn’t be sick anymore. I threw out the aforementioned inhalers. On returning me to mums house Sunday night you think dad might mention “by the way our daughter has been cured,”  knowing that mum was absent from church that week, but he didn’t. Needless to say within a couple of days I was struggling to breathe at a neighbour’s birthday party trying to explain between gasps why I wasn’t asthmatic anymore, to a group of concerned non church-goers.

The year I turned seven I spent the first half of the summer holidays with dad. On the last night, one family from the congregation had a party we attended— they lived on a farm an hour away— and at the end of the night instead of taking us home ready for mum to collect us the next day, Dad left me and my younger brother there. He told us we were not allowed to see or call mum again that she was trying to take us away from the rest of the family, I had no clue when he was planning to come back for us. I remember the phone being unplugged from the wall and going to sleep on that family’s couch. I was awoken by yelling and then mum appeared and told us to get in the car, someone at church had blabbed dad’s plan and mum had rounded up some friends to fend off the congregation members while she grabbed us. We drove all night and spent weeks living in different motels, it was during that time both my parents were officially asked never to attend church again— and neither have I. 

I have moved around a lot since then and have never met another person who had heard of WCG until today, that person gave me her psychologist’s number in case I want to talk about my “life in a cult.” I was surprised to say the least. 

I am now 28, living in Australia and 100% atheist. I don’t celebrate Christmas in a big way because it feels a little strange and there is too much emphasis on the commercial side. I have recently started to experiment eating seafood and bacon but it is a slow process. I think growing up watching my dad make poor decisions that affected the whole family has made me become more of a feminist and more vocal with my opinions when I believe I’m right. I guess I am lucky I got out early.


Thank you for your blog, I have wondered for years what were others feeling?

I am an ex WCG member, from San Jose Ca. I was born and raised in this crap. I was at the Holy Day when Fred Culter pulled his stunt. Even as a little kid I always had questions about the church. Seems everything was dictated to you. You were not entitled to your own thought feelings and emotion. They were dictated to you.

As I grew up in the Y.E.S. and then the Y.O.U. program this brainwashing became more and more evident. It was also becoming very clear that lip service was essential. As long as you sounded good and looked good, you will be praised by the pastor. Most of my time was under Leroy Cole. Nice man but definitely only taught what he was told to. Of course before him was Ron Reedy, now there is a piece of work. He came to my parent house with Fred Culter one day and drew all over my face and took measurements, and proceeded to tell my future. None of which came true. I may still have the audio tapes of this.

I basically had no childhood. It was so imperative that we stand out and be different. My father took this to the extreme. Our hair was crew cut and we had to wear cords when jeans were popular. We had to do the opposite of what the rest of the world was doing. It didn’t take long to figure out the families not in the WCG were much happier. They celebrated the holidays and enjoyed life, while I sat in the back of the room completely confused, and embarrassed. I did question this one time with my family and I was beaten unconscious. When I came to I was ordered never to question church authority. It was at this time I learned what lip service was all about. Life was not fun as a kid. Thanks to finding my dads booze locker at a young age I found a way to numb my feelings. This leads to a whole different story…

I guess one advantage of having a family so dedicated to the church was travel that took place. I did go all over the country for the Feast, Even got to go to Thailand and Hawaii. But be rest assured you had better have you tithe and offering in order.

My parents divorced and were ordered to remarry during the whole DNR thing. Sixteen years later we snuck out of my bedroom window and escaped from a very abusive man. He believed we had to be beaten into submission. Of course the pastors were always giving sermons on how you men are to control you family. Taught how the wife will obey, and nothing as to how the man needs to respect his wife. Such a one-sided church.

After the divorce we moved to the Portland, Oregon area. Yep, the same was being taught. The gal I was dating was told her family would be disfellowshipped if she continued dating me. All because I had no intention of going to AC. It was at this time I went right up to the Bastard and questioned his very authority. I got a mouth full from him (Glen White and the associate pastor, Bill Davis.) It was suggested I keep my mouth shut.

I went to school in Arizona only to find Mr. Cole had been transferred. Now as an adult, I began to really see the corruption in all of this. I stopped paying tithes and offerings and started to really question church authority. I was eventually asked to stop coming and was denied the monthly newsletter.

I have questioned all this scary God stuff for years. I also questioned the different teachings that were going on. Why were they allowed to go to school dances and play school sports in the San Francisco and Oakland ares, but under the San Jose leadership that was a sin??

I stopped going when I was asked to leave, I was never actually disfellowshipped, as the church staring to separate at that time. This must have been 1993-94.

Need less to say my head was seriously messed up by all this.

I refuse to have anything to due with religion today. I have taken a spiritual approach to life and since I have done that, I have now found happiness.

If you find this appropriate for you blog feel free to post it.



In order to begin my personal WCG story, I looked into some things others had written.  I clicked on a link Robert had provided in the “Requirements for posters” paragraph of his remarkable website.  That click took me to the site called Painful Truth, with which I was already familiar.  However, the long list of points provided by former young attendees, the listing under “You Might Have Grown Up In The Worldwide Church of God If…” was new to me.  And heart-rending.

Later, I went back and clicked on the Worldwide Church of God link, and that opened a site completely foreign to me — not only new to my eyes but new to any rumor or previous preparation.  Beginning with the photo of a bearded Joe Jr. (whom I had known only slightly as an upstart while his father was a deacon), who now sports the title of “Dr.”  Shocking on more than one level!  I didn’t bother reading any of that site.

Very much appreciated, due to the similarity to my own philosophies, was Robert’s line I copied and pasted here: “…despite my current view of Christianity and religion in general as false, I feel I share a sense of kindred spirit with those who attended (or still attend) WCG, and especially those who grew up attending.”

With this kindred spirit in mind, I felt a need to approach my story with an out-pouring of compassion for so many who came after my time in the WCG.

You see, my time of relating to the sect began all the way back in the early 1950s and actually involved the R(radio)CG for many years.  The name change came while I was a student, probably second year, at AC in Big Sandy, Texas.  It seems the change happened around 1965, perhaps within months of the death of Loma Armstrong.  Interesting that I had not associated these two events until this moment, and I now wonder if perhaps Loma would not allow Herbert to make that name change earlier because it may have sounded too boastful to her.  She was a kindly and humble woman.  At least she seemed so to me with my limited access to her.

My compassion for those who have written so many great and small memories of their time growing up in the church stems from something I sincerely felt and mentioned when I responded to some of the comments on Joy’s story here in this blog: my own inability to alter their plight.

If you have read any of my posts in the Painful Truth Blog [found under the name, Mark (Salyer) Manning], you already know that I walked away with minimal pain and virtually never looked back.  From my own singular and completely self-determined perspective, begun when I resigned, the whole concept of the WCG and even of religion itself fell away into the dust of antiquity.  It hurts today to come to the sudden realization that still after 1976, thousands of babies were born to church members and more thousands of children grew up within the constriction of that belief system with all its perversions, inequities and corruptions.

While writing for the Painful Truth blog, I was charged by some to apologize to everyone for my role in the corruption, etc.  I found it distasteful to be even asked to do so because I had been as duped and manipulated as anyone else who blindly followed in that tortuous path.  So I never overtly offered any apology there, but I feel the desire and the need to do so here.  Because here, I find I am speaking to so many young people, so many innocents who without any blame or recourse, were dragged along to adulthood through the grim requirements their duped (and often over-zealous) parents placed upon them.  And perhaps the most personally sobering for me is the realization that I was for some of you, that long-winded preacher up there grinding away on the “thou shalt not” bullshit you were forced to hear from your blanket on the floor, or later from your demanded erect and attentive position in the seat next to your misguided parent(s).  No, I was never guilty of the Waterhouse-type marathon sermons, but any sermon from those days was interminable to some of you, and I was definitely guilty of following the orders from headquarters to make the service come out to two hours duration.  In my defense, I doubt that any service where I was in charge ever went even ten minutes long and I remember surprising the congregation more than once by dismissing fifteen minutes or more before expected.  Hopefully I was being slightly compassionate even then, taking pity on your bottom and/or your attention span.

You, all of you, who came along and suffered the throes of the WCG from about 1968 until — well, whenever you managed to escape — deserve my apology and I ask that you accept it.  Especially do I ask the forgiveness of those who actually were children attending any of the meetings at feasts or in my own pastorates where I was the offending Lord of the Day, pounding the bible and my words into your brains.  You did not deserve that.  Nobody did.

Now that I’ve said all that, I will try to briefly summarize my own RCG/WCG life story and shut up.

Sometime in 1953, my older sister (already married – I was ninth of ten children in a northern Indiana farm family), told our mother about a radio broadcast called The World Tomorrow.  Mom began to listen devoutly and within about four years or so, she and the sister began making their way on rare occasion to Chicago to visit a service conducted by Dean Blackwell.  I believe it was about 1958 when they were both baptized, either by Dean or with the help of a traveling evangelist from Pasadena who came through on one of the baptism tours that were common back then.

In 1961 when I was a new (and always ready) driver at sixteen and in early third year of high school (and even though I had managed to avoid much direct involvement in the church because the all-important father of the family was not converted), the FoT came into play.  I was asked if I wanted to help drive my mom, sister and a new sister-in-law, along with four younger kids who were being forced to go, and head for Texas.  This meant being excused from classes for more than a week and it meant the chance to drive long distances.  Sold!

That Feast turned out to be a mild introduction to Big Sandy, the beautiful countryside of east Texas, the whole concept of camping out and of attending huge services in a huge building.  However, I managed to rebel a bit, often dropping off the family at the auditorium door before “parking” the station wagon, then sneaking on out of the lot and into Gladewater for a hamburger or whatever interesting thing I could check out.

Two years later, following high school graduation and looking into the abyss of job searches, career questions, whether to join the military, etc., I accepted again the chance to drive to a new destination — Jekyll Island, Georgia.  This time I was to chauffeur two widow ladies in the new Chevy owned by one of them.  I was to be the only driver and that suited me perfectly!  And the vacation spot on the Atlantic coast was delightful.  But by this time, I was not so shy around girls and I managed to get into trouble with one who was also not too shy.  To compensate for my infraction of the rules (I believe we had kissed!), I attended a service under the big top where Rod Meredith was expounding (and pounding), and I somehow saw the light.  From then on, I was a devoted church goer.

AC, Big Sandy from 1964 to 1968 set me up to be a mouthpiece for the church.

Until July 4, 1976.  That day, I gave my last sermon and resigned from the ministry.  No one had a clue on that day that I was also determined to never participate again in any kind of religion.  The light I had seen under the big top was a blinding light that prevented my having any view of the real world; that new view began slowly to come into focus in the summer of 1975 while my family and I were being tossed about by the sheer (ugly) politics of the WCG.  By early ’76, I was ready to admit I hated what my life had become and I knew I needed to change it for myself.  No one else could do it.

My story is much different from the many I have read on this site, chiefly because my association with the Radio Church of God and its later evolution was not as forced as were most of yours.  My dad never did become a member and that always allowed me to play both sides during my formative years.  I still missed out on many extracurricular activities and sports because even though my dad was not with mom in the church attendance business, he was no ally to my rebellion.  I also missed out on the Christmas crap (thinking then that I was missing something good but today, see as crap), and was something of an outcast among my youthful peers; but I was not forced to attend many long, boring sermons and never was trapped in the insufferable condition so many of you describe.  It is still shocking to me to hear of the horrible misadventures and virtual religious persecution suffered by so many of you who came into this world even after I had stepped away from that world of religion and let it slide from my awareness.  The totalitarian regime of HWA was a thing of misery and hateful experience, but in those earlest years it lacked the political upheavals, the struggling for meaning and the divisiveness that apparently raged in the 80s and 90s.  Today it’s all quite a mystery to me.  If you’re reading this, you must have gotten out.  I’m glad.

Thanks for hearing my story, and again, my sympathies to all who suffered.

Mark’s blog is Manning the Neutral Zone.

Joy: Update on Survey and Call for WCG Videos

Editor’s Note: The following is an update from Joy Wallace, who posted her original story here. The call for participation in her survey is here too. I have also created an easy-to-share shortened link to the survey: http://bit.ly/wcgsurvey. Post it on your Facebook account or e-mail it to friends or family with a WCG background!

Dear Ex-WCG Friends,

I thought it about time that I give an update on my writing project, as many of you have contributed so kindly!

My goal with this project is to simply tell what I believe is one of the most exciting and unheard of stories of the 20th century, culminating in one of the most stunning events of religious history, that is, the deconstruction of a fringe religious group from within by turning it towards a culturally accepted form of religion (in this case, Evangelicalism.)  I hope to make the story accessible to curious outsiders, as well as provide insight and understanding to those who experienced Armstrongism first hand and are looking for an explanation of events to help them deal with their own confusion.

I want to thank those who took the time to fill out my survey and to pass it on to others.  I’ve had about 40 responses which is an excellent beginning.  Naturally, I would hope to hear from hundreds who have been affected by the WCG and its offshoots.  The responses I have had so far have been so heartfelt and illuminating.

One concern I have as to the results is that the survey hasn’t reached those who still cling to Armstrong’s views in one form or another.  I haven’t yet sorted out how to approach this demographic, but I feel it is important to include those who experience the WCG as a positive in their life.  And there are certainly many who do!  It is important that people understand I am not trying to write a hit piece and want those who appreciate Armstrongism today to feel they can speak to me without fear of judgment.

I don’t want to belittle anyone.  If you are still connected with those involved in Armstrongism, forwarding the survey to them would be a great help.  In the mean time, I will keep thinking of ways to approach current adherents in a non-threatening way.

My most pressing research at the moment is gathering WCG media.  Use of media was one of the defining characteristics of the WCG and so much of the Church’s work was done through radio, television, and Festival reels.  Some content is available online, but not a significant amount.  I believe it would be a historical shame if the World Tomorrow telecast and Festival reels were lost forever.

Many dutiful members recorded the World Tomorrow when it was first broadcast and I am anxious to speak to former members who may still have these on VHS.  As to the Festival reels, I am not sure where to begin searching.  I would certainly hope they have not all been destroyed.  Also, it would be wonderful to have personal photos or videos of the Church in its hay-day.

If anyone has these photos or videos available to them and would be interested in talking about sharing them for research purposes, I would love to be in touch with you!  I can be contacted at joy.wallace5@gmail.com.

Also, I am always happy for the opportunity to chat with people about their experiences.  I know many people have mixed feelings about their involvement with the WCG.  Rest assured, I am not out to embarrass or mock.  Please share freely.

Thanks again to everyone for their contribution.



Recommended Podcasts

I get a lot of my news and entertainment through podcasts these days. I wanted to take a moment to recommend two I’ve been enjoying that readers of this blog might also appreciate. Both of these podcasts are nicely produced and include a wide variety of engaging guest interviews.

Living After Faith

Pentecostal preacher-turned-atheist Rich Lyons and his wife Deanna Joy Lyons co-host this playful, often touching, and occasionally deeply personal show. Their podcast is designed to help you as you leave religion and move forward with your life. It is the official podcast of RecoveringReligionists.com, a recovery group founded by Dr. Darryl Ray, author of The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture.

The Secular Buddhist

Ted Meissner is an atheist and naturalist who also finds value in the study and application of early Buddhist thought to help find peace and meaning in everyday life. As someone interested in “inner practice” such as meditation and everyday mindfulness myself, I have long thought it would be interesting to explore the philosophical, psychological, and scientific aspects of Buddhism apart from supernatural assertions such as rebirth and karma. Ted and his guests make great guides in this journey.

Have you discovered a helpful podcast? Leave a comment and let us know about it!


It’s strange to look back, somewhat sentimentally, on the habits and idiosyncrasies I was raised with. A now defunct fringe religious group (some would say cult) had an enormous part to play in making me who I am today — for good and for ill. Through my own memories and research, and with the perspective of time and distance, I can’t but feel that much of my experience was so utterly bizarre, so ultra specific and so locked into a by-gone era, that it is nearly impossible to explain to others not raised in a similar circumstance. And, so, I find it nearly impossible to explain a large part of myself to others.

If I had to sum it up to an outsider, I would say that, from my experience, this is the most destructive thing the Church did: It took simple, everyday experiences and gave them undue cosmic significance.

Dinner time was not simply a family meal. It was a religious event. Families who did not eat dinner together, with the father at the head of the table, were bad families. Recess was not as simple as going out to play in the playground. I had to carefully guard myself around these outsider children. I often just read alone, though I was a perfectly social child. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play, but figuring out a paradigm of “in the world not of the world” is not easy when you are six.

My parents think it was adorable that, for years, I had Santa and Satan confused. I don’t think it’s so cute. We can certainly talk about the moral issue of fibbing to children about Santa, but any way you look at it, allowing your child to be afraid that Satan is going to come down her chimney is probably worse.

I remember being in grade three. It was Valentines Day and I had one of those teachers who made the kids give everyone in class a Valentine if they were going to be giving any at all. I walked into class to find my desk covered in these sinful cards! I wasn’t angry at the kids who gave them to me, I just didn’t know what to do with them! So I chucked them, wholesale, into the garbage. Well, one girl saw me throw away the cards and candies without even opening them and she burst into tears. I really didn’t mean to hurt her, it was just overwhelming!

Every part of life had a sacred significance. And every mistake afforded cosmic consequences.

When I was small, I recall my father calling for me. I either didn’t hear him or “didn’t hear” in that way children do. He stormed into the room and said, “Why don’t you come when you’re called!? What if I was calling you to go to the Place of Safety and then had to leave you behind!?”

Simple behavior management issue = an issue of eternal significance.

From the time I was young, probably about ten, my dad had printed up and taped to my bedroom wall Armstrong’s Seven Laws Of Success. Periodically, he would tack on laws of his own making. The last law (pretty sure this is my dad’s contribution) was Failure is Not an Option. Now, what kind of fucked up message is that to tell to a little kid? If you fail, you have broken a law. So, above all, don’t fail. Let me tell you, this sets you up for a world of neurosis.

My father also included some personal family lifestyle rules in line with Armstrong’s teaching. No dating until you are 16. And after that, only group dating. (To clarify, group dating is any social situation where there are males and females my age.) And, naturally, we only date within the Church. Besides that, I was constantly admonished to “date widely,” as was the encouragement at Ambassador College.

Now, it was around age fourteen that my libido started to take take a critical look at my situation. I mean, my make-out opportunities were not only severely limited by my parents idea that any mixed-gender event constituted a date, but, by the fact that, due to living in such an isolated area, the only contender was a somewhat awkward boy who attended services infrequently.

It was not with any great thought or significant study that I fell away from Armstrong’s teachings as an early teen. I think, in large part, I was lonely. I was tired of being isolated. And I was so bored. In grade 9, I fell in love with a saxophone player who was in grade 12. After seeing each other in secret for about a month, I was counseled by well meaning adults to just tell my parents, who, they were sure, would understand! I mean, this was a very normal, age appropriate situation I was in. I wasn’t cutting class to have sex (yet). It was just a sweet, high school romance. So, with my heart in my throat, I went to my parents just before Christmas to tell them I liked a boy.

The shit hit the fan. I have no idea why I though they would be OK with this. This night set me up for four years of absolute hell. As I said in the beginning, simple, everyday things, like a teenager falling in love, are given cosmic weight. I was a bad daughter. A bad person.

I tried so desperately to get out. I researched emancipation from your parents and fantasized about this constantly. Ryan, the saxophonist boyfriend, was even willing to marry me, if such a thing could be arranged, in order to help. I called Child Protective Services a number of times, only to hang up. If I tried to report what was going on and then was not removed immediately, my abuse, I was sure, would increase. There was mild physical abuse (slaps across the face, that sort of thing) but that wasn’t the worst of it. There were periods where I wasn’t allowed to sleep in a bed. I wasn’t allowed to be in a room with the door closed. I wasn’t allowed to speak to my grandmother, who lived in the same house.

The most hurtful thing was something my mother said after I had been “caught” with Ryan once. We were driving in the van. I am the oldest of 5. The others were in the back seat. My mother is spewing venom and yelled to the children in the back, “Kids, don’t be like Joy. I want you to promise me you won’t be like Joy. Say it!” And from the back of the van came little children, mumbling, “We won’t be like Joy.”

What is hard to explain to those not from the WCG is the religious and spiritual undercurrent to all this. What I was doing was an affront to the Church and to God. I was worse than an unbeliever.

I retain a couple triggers from this time that still set me off. The first is people talking behind closed doors. I struggle with this at work. If my boss is in his office talking to a co-worker, my heart drops and I instantly assume I have done something bad and have been found out.

I am also made extremely anxious if I feel I can’t read the emotions or intentions of others. I am exceptionally perceptive when it comes to reading people and am constantly suspicious as to the motives of others. Each day of my life, as a teen, I would walk the mile from where the school bus dropped me to home in a state of terror. Had they found something? Had I done something and they heard about it? I would try to read my parents and see what state they were in. If they are cold or aloof that day, is it because of something I’ve done?

Like many girls with no real form of self expression or control over their lives, I became anorexic. I remember accidentally skipping breakfast and then lunch one day. By evening, I simply wasn’t hungry any more and refused dinner. And it just spiraled from there. Magically, when I eventually did break free, I returned, almost without thought, to eating normally.

My ticket out, I believed, would be music. I had no money and no hope of getting any. But I could play the piano. I thought if I worked hard enough, I could get a scholarship to university and get the hell out of there! Music also provided me with a social network outside the Church that I desperately needed.

Largely, my plan worked! With one happy surprise. I met Dave at the Feast of Tabernacles (how stereotypical!) We were both the brooding, angst filled teens who didn’t even fit in with the Worldwide crew. He was older than me. Done with school. A writer and an artist. Long story short, I got on a bus with Dave the day after HS graduation and never looked back. My fathers parting words to Dave: “Watch out for that girl. She’s too bloomin’ independent.” And I did indeed get a scholarship large enough to allow me to afford university near Dave.

With our families around, however, it was simply not possible to truly be free. So, when I was 19 and Dave was offered a job on the other side of the country, we grabbed it. Still having a lot of befuddled WCG beliefs and hang ups, we felt we needed to marry if we were going to live together. So we married a few short weeks later and flew out the day after our wedding. We’ve been married 7 years now and still consider this the best decision either of us ever made. Also, I (we) are not the only ones to see early marriage as a means of escape from the Church.

The end of the story is happy, I guess. We’ve both ended up fairly agnostic, anarchistic, polyamorous weirdos. But we’re definitely happy about those things. And with one another. And, sure, there have been bizarre episodes along the way – like that time I almost became a priest. Still, in a strange way, Armstrong lead us to become the happy odd-balls that we are.

But our families are shattered. Personally, spiritually and financially. Both of our sets of parents cling to Armstrong’s ways. I have four nieces in the Philadelphia Church of God I shall never be allowed to know. I still compulsively look for lard on the backs of those little Saltine cracker packs. My mother still sends me audio tapes of sermons by Dr. Hoeh (high five if you know how to pronounce his name.) I still think about sending my therapy bill to “Headquarters.” So there is bitterness too.

I am currently researching for a book that will be part memoir and part examination of the Armstrong Phenomenon from a sociological and anthropological point of view. If anyone would like to be in touch regarding my project, please contact me at joy.wallace5@gmail.com


Christina: Epiphany

I was in the Worldwide Church of God from birth (1975) until midway through my freshman year of college – although the seeds of doubt started well before that. We moved quite a bit when I was younger, and I’d lived in three different states by the time I was 8. In the early going, church gave me consistency. There were always YES activities and a built-in set of people who are all thinking the same thing and doing the same thing under the guise of welcoming Christian fellowship.

There were whispers of things that troubled me. My father was ordained an elder at our second stop in Ohio, and he began counseling people along with the minister. I remember hearing vague stories about a man beating his wife and their receiving counseling on how to save their marriage. There were stories about “unequally yoked” members who were, on the other hand, swayed toward making a decision about whether they should stay married and whether their marriage was godly. After I left, I heard about a teen, slightly younger than me, who’d been molested by another church member for over a decade and nothing was done. But when I was young, these things didn’t surface fully. I enjoyed the annual vacations to the Feast – even if it meant going to church service every day. Sure, I had nightmares on a regular basis about Satan creeping into my room and stealing me away or, once, his showing up at a church picnic and making me eat human flesh. Satan was a big player in my early childhood, and thoughts of him sent me to sleep in my parents’ bed many nights. I believed he was roaming the earth like a lion. I also had an ongoing fear about coming home from school and realizing Christ had come and taken everyone in my family but me to the Place of Safety. I just assumed these fears were a healthy part of being Christian.

My real breaks with the Church began when we moved from Ohio to Texas in 1984, and we began attending Dallas West (and later Dallas North). It might have been moving into the South. It might have been inevitable as I got older and more aware, but I never really felt the racism of the Church until I got to Texas. Looking back, it’s utterly amazing any Black person would sign up to be a member of the Worldwide Church of God. A cornerstone belief of the Armstrongist church was British Israelism, which I now realize is a misguided tenet shared by white supremacists to redefine God’s chosen and exclude the Jews. I had to stand up during Bible Bowl, and when asked why God prohibited interracial marriage, deliver the answer given to me on the printed Bible Bowl study sheet, “Because God gave each race special talents and he doesn’t want those talents confused.” What talents are Black talents, I wonder? And what does “talents confused” even mean? I watched as my older brothers were singled out for lectures at dances for dancing with white girls. I remember being expected to attend these dances as I got to be a teenager even though I knew there was only one black male teen besides my brother. If he didn’t show, it was an evening of sitting at the table with my mother while my friends danced away. His parents knew better, and I don’t think he ever showed. But my dad was an elder so there we were. No one would even ask me to dance. It’s an insidious kind of humiliation to be forced to accept this kind of treatment because the alternative is to be cast out into “the world” and into the arms of Satan.

What if all of this is wrong? I started thinking hopefully and yet fearfully when I was about 13. I thought Satan was attacking my faith. I threw myself doubly into YOU activities. Eventually, however, I realized it was all bunk, but I felt forced to continue. I had one friend who had basically quit attending, but her mother was “outside the Church.” I had another friend whose home life was troubled, and she got married at 17 so she could move out. Early marriages were frequent in the Church. It hit the fan when I went away for the summer before my senior year of high school. I applied to a writing program at a college in Minnesota. My parents gave me the name of a family who’d agreed to pick me up and take me to church every Saturday while I was up there. I never called them. I lived for three free-wheeling, free-thinking weeks reading Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes and Alice Walker. You don’t come back from that and want to go to WCG services. So the next Saturday, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to church. As my disassociation from church grew more evident, my mother had told me that if I ever really wanted to stop, I could. Well, not so much. My father threw a fit, and we got into a huge argument. And I went. I went dutifully until I graduated high school. I got a car that summer and would drive to church and leave right after, talking to no one. Everyone thought it was weird that although I’d been accepted to Ambassador College, I was choosing to go to Southern Methodist University instead. I had a full scholarship. Were they crazy?

Slowly, my attendance dwindled and then I stopped completely. I never looked back. I felt conflicted at times until my junior year when I studied abroad for a semester, which was a part of my scholarship. I was on a metro in Paris when I had an epiphany. I looked at all the different people, people who’d probably never heard of Herbert W. Armstrong, and yet got up every morning and lived their lives as they saw fit. It occurred to me that there’s not judgment at WCG that could substitute for my own. And in the end, we’re all just guessing anyway – even the Church. I’ll remember that moment forever. I got home feeling more free than I’d ever thought possible. Who I am – more so even than what I think or what I do – is wholly incompatible with their legalistic, fundamentalist thinking. On what basis is any one religion better than another? And once my mind broke open to that idea, I began questioning the point of religion and how one arrives at believing in God. Now, I’m agnostic, much to the consternation of my father who once told me over a plate of Tex-Mex that there was a right, godly and perfect way to do everything even if we as humans can’t know it. “Even to walk from this table to the bathroom?” I asked him. “Yes,” he declared. He’s moved on to another church with a charismatic founder who rakes in millions while much of the flock is poor, a hierarchical structure, and special seats for elders and ministers that are the equivalent of orange car stickers at the Feast.

My mother passed away last year, and we’d had numerous conversations about religion since I left it behind. She apologized profusely for not standing up and telling my father that at 17, if I didn’t believe, I shouldn’t be forced to go to a church service. Warming a seat serves no purpose. She had long stopped attending any church, but she died a strong believer in God. I can appreciate the comfort it gave her, but it still leaves me cold. I do feel some camaraderie from living life in these particular trenches. My brothers and I can laugh now about how “the Feast,” “the Transmission” (my college roommate was baffled by that one), and a whole list of other things have this meaning for us that they have for no one else. I’ve run into people, started conversations, and then something gets said and we both just know we were in “the Church.” It’s like waking up from a strange and twisted dream.